The significance of multicultural benchmarks is in the role they play in facilitating the transformation of an existing system or organization into one where awareness of and sensitivity to diverse cultural influences, traditions and practices become the norm. In virtually any endeavor, but especially in the areas of business and government, benchmarks are a standard tool for setting and meeting objectives or goals. They help maintain forward momentum by visibly specifying the level of progress that should be attained by a certain period of time. Within the context of racial or ethnic diversity, benchmarks can include specific percentages of a workforce that should include historically under-represented racial or ethnic groups but that, for reasons of a country’s or industry’s history of racism, is overwhelming represented by only one race, in this case, Caucasians. Percentages used as benchmarks are usually measured in terms of representation within the population as a whole, for example, the population of African-Americans serving in the U.S. Armed Forces exceeded by a considerable percentage the population of African-Americans in the country as a whole. Consequently, some members of Congress hoped to establish benchmarks for bringing the number serving more in line with the percentage of the population.
Specific to the area of education, benchmarks are increasingly used in an attempt at ensuring that certain ethnicities and other categories of individuals are not at a disadvantage by virtue of the cultures in which they are raised. Many have argued that, because American history was, for two centuries, written mainly by white males, that the books used to educate the nation’s youth solely reflected that perspective at the expense of the perspectives of women, blacks, Hispanics, and so on. In response to those concerns, multicultural benchmarks began to be formulated that established a path toward greater levels of cultural sensitivity in schools. These benchmarks almost always, logically, begin with the preparation and distribution of a statement of intent that reflects the organization in question’s aspirations for becoming more culturally diverse and aware. Subsequent benchmarks involve training and indoctrination of staff, as well as hiring policies oriented toward greater racial or ethnic diversity; preparation of study plans for students that incorporate cultural diversity while also being directed toward a broader range of ethnicities and backgrounds; production of textbooks and lesson plans that similarly incorporate multiculturalism as a foundation for education; and periodic reviews to ensure benchmarks are being met in a timely manner.
The significance of multicultural benchmarks, then, lies in their utilization as an instrument for meeting goals oriented towards greater cultural diversity.